NFT Update - April 2013

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I hope this communication finds you all in a healthy place in your life as we get ready to take a much needed April break. Please try to use this break to relax and enjoy time with your family and friends. It is hard to believe that we are entering the final months of the school year. I have personally found this year to be a combination of both the fastest and the slowest of my career. I believe as a group, we can honestly say that this has been the most unique and challenging year in our personal and professional lives.  As teachers we often take comfort in looking back at school years with fond memories of our student’s accomplishments and the positive effect we have had on their learning and their lives. Whether you have been in education for one year or twenty five years, the positive effect you have had on the students in your classes this year may never be equaled. Don’t ever forget this. I feel privileged and honored to be a teacher in Newtown and to call you my colleagues, friends, brothers and sisters.

Since the events of December 14th, AFT leadership on the National, State and Local level have been working tirelessly to recognize and address the myriad of complex issues affecting our membership on both a personal and professional level. Each and every day has presented our leadership with unique challenges which have tried our patience and required time and resources to solve. We have always tried to move forward with the best interests of our 435 members in mind. It seems like nothing has been easy. I know that many of you have been frustrated and angered by the lack of progress in many areas of our collective recovery. I know you are tired of being asked to be patient as you see your concern not being addressed in what you feel is a reasonable amount of time. Please try to understand that the effort of your union has never wavered.  No one in a leadership position entered this period of recovery with any experience on how to best move forward. We have been, and will continue to be proactive in seeing that many of the needs of our membership have been met and that all of your concerns will be addressed. 

As a direct result of these efforts, many inportant concerns of our members have been met on both an individual and group level during this unprecedented time of recovery. The union has been instrumental in seeing that everything that can be done to help our membership has been done or is in the process of being done. Unfortunately we are not in control of the unique circumstances that have played a role in creating the timeline for when objectives and goals have been or will be accomplished. Your leadership has never stopped trying to have all of your needs taken care of in a timely fashion.  Here are some of the goals/objectives we have helped to meet in the four months since the tragedy.

  • Bill #6599 – Sandy Hook Workers Assistance Program – This bill provides immediate financial help for Sandy Hook Elementary School employees who suffered a mental or emotional impairment because of the events of 12/14.
  • United Way of Western Connecticut & The Newtown Rotary Club Foundation Partner with the State Office of Victim Services to Provide Immediate Financial Assistance to Families (including teachers) affected by the Sandy Hook Shooting. If you need assistance please call. Phone # (860) 990-1984
  • National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) will be conducting a Health Hazards Evaluation of Newtown school district in May. More information on this evaluation will be provided during the week we return from our April break. (See Attachment)
  • Received a Waiver in Public Act 12-1 passed 12/19 to exempt the entire Newtown School District, upon request of the BOE, for the state mandated 180-day minimum school year for School Year 2012-2013.
  • Received a Waiver for the administration of the Connecticut Mastery Test from the State Department of Education and supported by National Education Secretary Arnie Duncan.
  • Received an extension of February break for the teachers in Sandy Hook school.
  • Received an additional two personal days for all district teachers from the BOE.
  • Helped secure a guaranteed full week off in April.
  • Granted request to have a representative (Ron Chivinski) from the NFT be part of Governor Malloy’s Sandy Hook Advisory Commission focusing on school safety, mental health, and gun violence prevention.
  • Have NFT representation (myself and Tim McGuire) on the District Security Committee.
  • The AFT, on a Local, State and National level are providing support to the district in their effort to receive a Justice Department Grant that will help pay for the Security Enhancements for the 2013-2014 school year and beyond.
  • Instrumental in making sure there would be an NFT/Teacher presence on the Principal Advisory/Search Committees for the Sandy Hook, Reed and Middle schools.

As I mentioned before, union leadership has played an important role in seeing that all of the above mentioned goals were achieved. I also understand that there is more we still need to do. I understand that there have been concerns, particularly revolving around building security that have yet to be addressed.  I am not trying to make excuses but I am asking you to understand that the reason these concerns are not being met can be directly tied to a lack of funding.  We have been working off a less than 1% school budget increase from last year. In addition, almost all of donations to the town have been earmarked by the donors to be used for something other than district security upgrades. It is a very complicated situation and no one feels more frustrated than I do. I will continue to work to see that all of our concerns are met but like I said the union has very little control over the funding or the timeline we are being asked to follow. If you continue to have concerns regarding building or classroom security please email the concerns directly to your building principal and cc the email to your union leader.

In closing, let me say that the work you have done this year will never be forgotten or fully appreciated. But as teachers we are used to this. Hopefully as the years go by, you will reflect and grow from the positives that were born from this tragedy and not be a prisoner to the negatives. Always know you will have a very special place in the hearts of the students you taught this year. Use the events of this year to inspire you to continue to do what you do best. Teach, love and care about the students in your classes. You truly make a difference in their lives now and forever. Continue to look to each other for strength when the times get tough and remember that no one understands the responsibilities or the joys of what we do in our classrooms each and every day.  Be Newtown Proud!!

In Solidarity,

Tom Kuroski
President – Newtown Federation of Teachers (local #1727)